Does Rape Have a Color? Woody Allen, R. Kelly, Bill Cosby and the Racial Politics of Sexual Abuse

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Like so many over the past weeks, I have been following the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen conflagration that re-exploded in the media on February 1 with Ms. Farrow’s open letter to the New York Times. In the letter, Farrow accuses Allen in graphic and heart-wrenching detail of sexually abusing her when she was seven years old. This information wasn’t new since Maureen Orth at Vanity Fair had covered the story extensively when it first broke in 1992, but Farrow’s letter triggered new interest in the case, even beyond that of Orth’s November 2013 follow-up interviews with the entire Farrow clan. Apparently unable to stay silent amidst the firestorm, Allen followed Farrow’s letter one week later … [Read more...]

“Looking” for Identity: Gender, Sexuality, and a Brief History of LGBT America

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When HBO premiered the first episode of its new series Looking in mid-January, the show, as noted by NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour “launched a 1,000 think pieces across the internet.” While Looking remains a compelling, if admittedly “low key” viewing experience, noted one critic, the show’s existence points to a more complicated and nuanced reality regarding 21st century gay identity.  How did we get here and how have ideas about homosexuality and identity been formed? The answer, one might argue, hinges on a complex mix of personal and group agency, popular culture and public discourse, and government, local and federal, regulation. As established by Josh Sides in his excellent 2010 work … [Read more...]

Eyes Wide Shut and the Paranoid Style in American Pop Culture

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What is it about Stanley Kubrick that makes people crazy? I was truly excited about the release of last year’s film Room 237—as a historian and Kubrick fan, the idea of an hour or two of deep interpretation of the themes and symbolism of his 1980 horror classic The Shining sounded delightful.  It would be like taking a cultural history or film studies class where all the insights of a semester’s discussions were distilled into one megacut. As it turned out, though, the film was more like a documentary about a cult or conspiracy theory, or simply the adherents of a weird fetish or hobby (say, a King of Kong for ersatz anthropologists).  Fairly ludicrous and elaborate inferences about … [Read more...]

When the Netflix Bingestrution Model Goes Wrong, or Why did Everyone Stop Talking about Orange is the New Black

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When Orange is the New Black first became available on Netflix, one could almost feel the wave of deserved critical praise that washed over podcasts for months afterward. It was like riding the Tidal Wave roller coaster at Six Flags Great America--exhilarating, breathtaking, and then, over.   Most critics felt obliged, rightly so, to only address the first couple episodes lest they ruin anything for those of us struggling to play catch up. “Orange burns with the kind of laughter that usually only comes after tears; it's audacious, shocking, intimate, and intense,” applauded Grantland’s TV critic Andy Greenwald. Normally a curmudgeon on the topic of the Netflix bingestrution model, … [Read more...]

Living on Noir Borders: Race, Sexuality, and Law Enforcement in Touch of Evil and Crimson Kimono

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“It has been argued that Touch of Evil is not so much the end of film noir as it is the beginning of a new kind of border film,” argued Kelly Oliver and Benigno Trigo in their 2003 work Noir Anxiety.[1] Indeed, much of the classic noir period, spanning roughly from 1941’s The Maltese Falcon to 1958’s Touch of Evil, seemed uncomfortable with borders. Racial, sexual, and moral boundaries all seemed blurred and dangerous.  However, borders change. What once might have been a space seen as problematic or dangerous can, in a short period of time, become normalized. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, gay rights let alone same sex marriage appeared to have been located on the outer limits of … [Read more...]

Waters of Community, Waters of Hostility: The Messy History of Urban America and the Municipal Pool

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[Editor's Note: Just in time for summer heat waves, this is the first in a series of posts in the upcoming weeks on the swimming pool in American life.  For those interested in cultural history of the backyard pool, check out ToM's RR via @KCETDepartures - "A Dive into the Deep End: The Importance of the Swimming Pool in Southern California"] “Caddy Day,” read the Bushwood Country Club Swimming Pool sign in the 1980 comedy Caddyshack, “Caddies welcome 1:00 – 1:15.”    In the roughly five minute scene, the Bushwood Country Club grudgingly hosts its lowest rung of employee: the caddies.  As the motley crew of lower middle and working class white kids, the group’s ethnic population … [Read more...]

Fracturing Catholics: Big Idea Books, Daniel Rodgers, and the Fragmenting Catholic Church

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Rooney (Kevin Dillon): [Standing in line for confession] Hey, Williams, you got your list? Williams (Stephen Geoffreys): Oh, yeah. Rooney: Let's have a look. [Reading Williams' list] Rooney: Jesus! You got here you jerked off 168 times? And it's been one month since your last confession? That's an average of... Williams: 5.6 times a day. Rooney: Oh, my God, you can't tell him that. He'll cut your balls off. - From the 1985 movie Heaven Help Us For anyone who did time in Catholic school, speeches on the peril of wayward adolescent sexuality probably echo in the subconscious even as some of us move rapidly toward our late thirties.  “There is a beast living in each and … [Read more...]

Teenage Wasteland: Moral Panic and Adolescent Sexuality in the Age of Steubenville

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Yeah, she could drag me over the rainbow, send me away Down by the river I shot my baby Down by the river, Dead, oh, shot her dead. - Neil Young, “Down by the River,” from Everybody Know This is Nowhere In 1969, Canadian Neil Young released Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.  Containing “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Cinnamon Girl,” the album received largely positive reviews initially, but in recent years, critics have lined up anew to praise its virtues. “Everybody Knows was a sort of big bang for Young, a dense moment of creative explosion that saw possibilities expanding in every direction,” wrote music critic Mark Richardson in late 2009.   While many critics chose to focus on … [Read more...]

“Upstream” Battle: How a Filmmaker Makes an Incredibly Weird Film in 2013

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A few days after seeing Shane Carruth’s new film Upstream Color, it still seems hard to know where to begin.  Carruth was the come-from-nowhere savant, trained as an engineer, who made Primer, perhaps the most realistic and compelling movie about time travel ever imagined, filmed in the suburbs of Dallas on a vanishingly small budget ($7,000). That was 2004.  The densely plotted and lapidary filmic wizardry of Primer suggested an indie filmmaker of great ambition, one who could follow in the steps of Christopher Nolan and Memento and jump from high-concept underground films to “conglomerate-backed mall-magnets, another Bryan Singer or Darren Aronofsky,” as Wired recently put it. But … [Read more...]

Steubenville and the Rejection of Sexual Danger?

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Steubenville. It’s gained one-word notoriety. A town of less than 20,000 people in eastern Ohio, Steubenville was little-known until a story ripped straight from an episode of Friday Night Lights got splashed across the headlines and made the place infamous. A small town ruled by football, a countdown clock until the next game, and blatantly hagiographic reverence for its players and coaches. A wild end-of-summer party with a lot of booze, hookups and smack-talk. Only this time, there’s no Coach’s wife - the inimitable Tami Taylor - to kick some ass. In fact, it seems no one would help a sixteen-year old drunk, unresponsive girl from being stripped of her clothes, viciously molested and … [Read more...]

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